The process of making a bronze sculpture
By Ott Jones Explore Big Sky Contributor

The creative process

My sculptures are all a direct result of my experiences and interaction with wildlife gained through hunting, fishing and spending time in the outdoors. I find that inspiration can happen anytime and anywhere and is the first step in creating a piece of work.
The second step is finding a pleasing composition and design, which I believe is the essence of a fine piece of work. To do so, I create miniature clay studies (maquette), and only once I’m satisfied with a study do I build an armature and start my final clay sculpture.
A sculpture must have rhythm and a strong correlation to other key elements including mass, form, line and negative space. How these elements interact with one another determines the strength of the composition and design.
Next, I obtain my research material, which includes observing my subjects in the field. There is nothing as valuable as sculpting from life, so I use a live model whenever possible. Photography, sketching and using subjects I keep in my “roadkill freezer” also provide valuable research material. The foundation of a fine piece of sculpture is knowing my subject’s anatomy and how it works, as well as its personality.

From armature to bronze, Ott Jones Chief Morning Star sculpture takes form:

Philosophy and style

I’m not concerned with sculpting every detail, whether it be feathers, hair or scales, but rather emphasizing the form and structure. I believe less is more: I don’t want viewers to be distracted by unnecessary detail, but instead to see the simple beauty of the subject’s form and structure.

When texturing a piece, the most important tools are my hands. I want you to see my fingerprints in the finished bronze – this is the ultimate signature of my artistic expression.

The sculpting process

Once my original clay sculpture is finished, it goes to a foundry where it is turned into bronze through an intricate eight-step process:

1. A latex rubber mold is built around my original, which is then removed from the clay.
2. Hot liquid wax is then poured into the mold.
3. Once cooled, the wax is pulled from the mold and cleaned up (also called wax chasing).
4. These waxes are dipped into ceramic slurry, where 11 coats are applied around the wax.
5. Once the ceramic mold has dried properly, it’s placed into a burnout oven, where the wax is burned out. This is called the lost wax process, and it leaves a hollow ceramic shell, which the molten bronze is poured into at approximately 2,500 degrees F.
6. Once the bronze has cooled, the ceramic shell is chipped and blasted off of it.
7. The pieces of the cast sculpture are then welded together and finished with various hydraulic tools to match the texture of the original clay sculpture.
8. Finally, heat and various chemicals are applied to the metal to obtain the patina, which is the coloring of the bronze.

Recognized for his wildlife and sporting bronzes, Bozeman-based sculptor Ott Jones has been a full-time professional artist for 27 years. His public works include the sculpture of John Bozeman at the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce, the fly fisherman at the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, and Chief Morning Star at Morning Star Elementary in Bozeman. Pieces are also available at Creighton Block Gallery in Big Sky, the Rocky Mountain Rug Gallery in Bozeman, and the Legacy Gallery in Jackson, Wyo.